- China in the Mix: Cinema, Sound, and Popular Culture in the Age of Globalization by Ying Xiao
Xiao Ying's China in the Mix: Cinema, Sound, and Popular Culture in the Age of Globalization offers a unique, acoustic angle on a hitherto missing chapter in the studies of Chinese cinemas in the post-Socialist period, roughly from the mid-1980s to the second decade of the twenty-first century. At the intersection of Chinese studies, cinema studies, and sound studies, it spells out, on the one hand, how to situate Chinese cinemas amidst a variety of brilliantly hued cultural expressions within an increasingly connected world and, on the other, how a close examination of uses of sound (popular music, dialects, the acousmêtre, silence, noise, dubbing, etc.) sheds new light on the studies of familiar figures like Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou, Zhang Yuan, Jiang Wen, and Jia Zhangke.
For some readers, this book might call to mind two highly influential works—Andrew F. Jones's Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial [End Page 71] Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age and Jean Ma's Sounding the Modern Woman: The Songstress in Chinese Cinema—with its inquiry into the connections and intersections of music and film industries. Beyond its different historical and geographical scope, Xiao consciously foregrounds her methodological innovations, most important of which is perhaps what she calls "mixing." Xiao takes the concept—also the title of the book—from the act of audio mixing, which "involves disassembling and reassembling the original before rendering into a multi-track recording and a new palette in which the discrete tracks are made sense of and given new life to each other" (p. 17).1 As a metaphor for critical acts, mixing is different from montage in that it requires disassembling as its very first step and does not necessarily imply contradictions between its discrete elements. In contrast to the common yet problematic understanding that film or music analysis is more or less an act of disassembling the piece, this mode of analysis equally emphasizes the processes of disassembling and reassembling, manifesting itself as a dialectical structure of viewing, listening, perceiving, feeling, and analyzing that mediates the cinematic or musical text with scholars' own consciousness, sensibilities, and creativities. For Xiao's project, performing the critical act of mixing could be said to be a triple task. At the level of film music, mixing, at the very least, means to be capable of recognizing various instruments at play and making sense of how they sing to each other. Echoing Altman's conjecture of "mise-enbande—in parallel and correspondence with that of mise-en-scène—that foregrounds 'the interaction among the various components making up the sound track'" (p. 7), this approach calls for a language for sound analysis that is as competent as our visual analysis system.2 At the level of sound-image relation, mixing means to draw attention to, and indeed champion, the experience of listening to film (you can close your eyes, if you wish), and to "resuscitate sound as part of an integrated audiovisual experience" (p. 235). Here, the multivalent concept of mixing articulates itself as "synchresis" (a word that Michel Chion has coined by combining "synchronism" and "synthesis"): "the spontaneous and irresistible weld produced between a particular auditory phenomenon and visual phenomenon when they occur at the same time" (p. 6).3 At the level of sociocultural expression, mixing, again, comes to the fore: if traditional binaries have "disassembled" popular and high art, experimental and commercial cinema, China and its global contacts, Xiao seeks to (re)mix them. What has emerged from Xiao's investigation is a far more complex and multifarious field of cultural production in which heterogeneous voices are sounding out, and in which commercial and political demands continue to compete with one another.
If at the core of Xiao's book is the question of mixing, then each chapter of this book could be understood...